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SPECIAL REPORT: Finding work for laid off coal miners

Thousands of West Virginia coal miners have lost their jobs over the years, and life after coal is hard for many families to imagine. (WCHS/WVAH)

Thousands of West Virginia coal miners have lost their jobs over the years, and life after coal is hard for many families to imagine.

Working in the coal mines in all some West Virginians know, but with mass layoffs and coal mine closures, life after coal is becoming the new reality.

"The decline in the industry drove the coal prices down,” former coal truck driver Rex Hampton said.

Hampton worked for a coal trucking company in Beckley for 17 years until 2015.

“It forced the owner of the company I was working for to go out of business,” Hampton said.

Being laid off was not something Hampton was prepared for.

"You basically just don't know if you’re going to find another job with the same pay rate or close to the same pay rate that you're accustomed to,” Hampton said.

The United Mine Workers of America Career Center in Beckley helps laid off coal miners and their spouses find new career paths. It provides $5,000 toward retraining and $20 for each day they attend classes.

It also teaches resume and interview techniques and helps with job placement.

That’s why Hampton is almost finished with his associates degree in business administration and landed a job as a service manager at a trucking company.

"It gives you options of what you can do and shows you that they're here to help you try to recover from what you've lost,” Hampton said.

Hampton’s wife, Vanessa, got help from the career center too. She became a certified medical assistant and found a job.

"When he went school, I was like well let me go to my school for myself also and for my family so I can get a better life for them,” Vanessa Hampton said.

Brett Dillon, director of the UMWA Career Center, was a coal miner for 22 years until the mine he worked in closed.

"When you pull the rug out from under somebody and your income drops that much and all you have is unemployment and you're looking at 6 months of it then yeah, its fear of the unknown,” Dillon said.

Dillon said all coal miners can learn new skills and can choose from a wide variety of training opportunities like commercial driving, electrical technology, chemical processing and even medical jobs.

"They come in here and the first thing they want to say is all I know is coal mining, I'm just a dumb coal miner, no you're not dumb, it takes a smart person to be a coal miner so they can do just about anything or can pick up the trait quick,” Dillon said.

Dillon said there is hope. They’ve helped thousands of former coal miners find new, long term jobs. They just have to take a leap, like the Hamptons did.

"The advancement in my career and be able to better my family there's a lot of opportunities within my company to move up and it’s just a great opportunity I've been given,” Dillon said. "There is life after coal mining, I know, I've experienced it personally and you know with a little bit of work, you can move on."

Dillon said even if a coal miner is still working in the miners, it’s still a good idea to train for another career, so they have other skills in their back pocket, just in case.

The UMWA Career Centers, Inc in partnership with the State of West Virginia has received a grant from the US Department of Labor to service dislocated miners from several mines in WV. Call 304-253-3772 to see if you qualify. You can also call 1-877-798-8692 or visit them online here.

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